Samuel Ogden Edison Jr., Thomas Edison’s father, was born in Nova Scotia
and was a man of many talents: skilled carpenter, tavern owner, businessman, manufacturer, tailor. He was a man of fertile resources and great energy of character. He was a tall man (6’2”) of much intelligence. He built the deceptively small-looking home for his family in Milan, on the side of the hill, which afforded it three stories as seen from the back, not the one story seen from the street side and beautifully done in the Greek Revival style, unusual for that size home.
In Milan, Samuel entered into the shingle-making business around the bustling Milan Canal.
Tom was always asking questions of his father and when, after Tom pursued his father with endless demands for information, his father, giving up, said he didn’t know the answer. And Tom replied, “Well, why DON’T you know?? His father always encouraged his reading and paid him a small sum for each book he mastered. When Samuel was much older, he remembered his son Tom as mischievous and exasperatingly inquisitive; not as a child prodigy who would develop into the greatest inventor of the 19th and 20th centuries. The older Tom was softer on his father and helped him plant a ten-acre garden at their home in Port Huron, Michigan and helped him sell the produce in town. Tom became an entrepreneur himself when he was 12 years old; perhaps because of the model he saw in his father. When the much older Thomas Edison was building his first laboratory at Menlo Park in NJ in the 1870’s, he had his father supervise the lab’s construction. Samuel was visiting his niece in Norwalk, Ohio, south of Milan, in 1896 when he died. His son, Thomas traveled back to the home of his boyhood to attend his father’s funeral.
There are several stories about Tom and his father. Perhaps the most notorious (but not true) of the time spent in Milan, (1847-1854) is the story as put forth in Mickey Rooney movie, Young Tom Edison, when Samuel felt compelled to take young Tom to the center square in Milan to give him a spanking when he and a friend had set fire to a barn. This version of the story is not verified and 2 clues will show that it is false. The first is both the Authorized Biography
Edison His Life and Inventions
Dyer, Martin and Meadowcroft (1928. p. 18) and the Meadowcroft biography
The Boys Life of Edison
(1921 p.17) mentions "Fire also had it’s peril. He built a fire in a barn, but the flames spread so rapidly that, although he escaped himself, the barn was wholly destroyed. He was publicly whipped in the village square as a warning to other youths.” - no mention of his father. If Meadowcraft was sure or Edison wanted it mentioned it would be there. The second clue is from the Paul Israel Biography
Edison A Life of Invention
(1998 pp. 13-14) Edison himself related how after pulling the prank on the Fort Gratiot Michigan sentries he "received a good switching on the legs from my father,
the first and only one I ever received from him, although my mother kept a switch behind the old Seth Thomas clock that had the bark worn off. My mother's ideas and mine differed at times, especially when I got experimenting and mussed up things.” The quote comes from Edison's reminiscences from the Dyer and Martin biography that was published in Volume 2 of the
The Papers of Thomas A. Edison